Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of loud car stereos. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of loud car stereos, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on. Community surveys or meetings will likely be necessary to answer many of these questions because many complaints are not officially registered, and existing records may not capture all the information.

Incidents

  • How many complaints have been registered about loud car stereos? With whom have they been registered (police, environmental protection officials, elected officials)?
  • Have complaints been substantiated through either decibel measurements or officers’ judgments?
  • How frequent are complaints (daily, weekly, episodic)?
  • What percentage of all noise complaints are about loud car stereos?
  • Typically, are complaints about loud car stereos in general, about individual cars or about a gathering of cars?
  • Are offenders usually driving when playing car stereos loudly, or are they parked (e.g., at a street party, in a park, in a parking lot)?

Victims

  • Who complains about loud car stereos? Residents? Merchants? School or hospital officials? Park users? Other motorists?
  • Are there persistent complainants?
  • Are there any noticeable demographic patterns among victims (age, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.)?
  • How many people are annoyed by loud car stereos? How annoyed do they claim to be?
  • What are their specific complaints? That they are awakened? Cannot hear their televisions? Cannot hear conversations? Are offended by music lyrics? Are made physically uncomfortable by the noise? Are intimidated by the noise?
  • What activities are disrupted by loud car stereos (e.g., sleep, commerce, education, recreation)?
  • What percentage of people disturbed by loud car stereos file official complaints?

Offenders

  • Are there any noticeable demographic patterns among offenders (age, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.)?
  • Are there different types of offenders (e.g., car stereo enthusiasts, teenagers, street cruisers, drug dealers)? Do the various types of offenders create problems at different times and in different places?
  • Are offenders aware of legal restrictions?
  • To whom are car stereo owners trying to appeal when they play their stereos loudly? Other car stereo owners? Friends? Members of the opposite sex? Judges in organized competitions? Potential customers for illegal drugs? Themselves?
  • What do car stereo owners say would discourage them from playing their stereos in violation of the law?
  • Where do car stereo owners buy and have special stereo equipment installed (e.g., local car stereo dealers)?
  • How much money have car stereo owners spent on their equipment? (This will give you a better idea of how meaningful various sanctions might be to them.)

Locations/Times

  • Where are complaints about loud car stereos concentrated?
  • From where do complainants hear loud car stereos (e.g., homes, businesses, vehicles)?
  • When are complainants most annoyed by loud car stereos (daytime, nighttime, weekends)?
  • Do complaints correspond with any particular events (e.g., closing time for bars, during street cruising events, when schools let out)?

Current Responses

  • How are loud car stereo complaints currently handled?
  • What existing legislation pertains to the problem? Does that legislation give police and other officials adequate authority to address it?
  • Are existing laws adequately enforced?
  • Are enforcement actions adequately prosecuted and adjudicated?
  • How do other jurisdictions handle this problem?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to loud car stereos:

  • the number of official complaints about loud car stereos filed with police and other agencies;
  • the level of annoyance or concern expressed in opinion surveys;
  • the percentage of survey respondents who are highly annoyed by loud car stereos;
  • the decibel levels at problem locations (it may, however, be difficult to separate the noise from loud car stereos from background noise);
  • the number of problem locations (if the problem is concentrated at certain locations);
  • the percentage of offenders who are repeat offenders; and
  • the sales revenues of and changes in consumer purchases reported by car stereo dealers.

† A survey of 20 Chicago car stereo dealers conducted by the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association reportedly revealed that their sales declined by 30 percent— and several dealers went out of business—in the period immediately following passage of a new city ordinance regulating loud car stereos (Colarossi 1998). These findings should be considered with caution, as car stereo dealers used the study results to oppose new noise legislation.